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We found war veterans and healthcare workers within Keir Starmer's family tree

5-6 minute read

By Daisy Goddard | June 24, 2024

Keir Starmer's family tree

How much do you know about Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer? Here's what our research into his roots uncovered.

Before becoming the Labour Party leader in 2020, Keir Starmer had a long legal career. Keir often refers to his parents during political speeches - particularly his father, Rod, a tool-maker. But what else is known about the Labour Leader's heritage?

This isn't all we've uncovered about the genealogy of Britain's most prominent politicians - to learn even more surprising discoveries, why not delve into Boris Johnson's family tree? We've also researched Rishi Sunak, Theresa May and Liz Truss, so there is so much for you to explore via the Findmypast Blog.

Keir Starmer's early life

Keir Rodney Starmer was born on 2 September 1962 in Southwark, London to parents Josephine A. Baker (1935-2015) and Rodney Starmer (1935-2018). The Starmer family lived in Oxted, Surrey, for most of Keir's childhood.

As a teen Keir attended the private Reigate Grammar School, before studying Law at the University of Leeds. After graduating in 1985, he began his career as a criminal defence barrister, rising the ranks and eventually becoming the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2008 (a post he held until 2013).

Keir Starmer in 2020.

Keir Starmer in 2020. Image credit: Rwendland, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Starmer entered the world of politics in 2014 when he stood as the Labour candidate for the constituency of Holborn and St. Pancras. He won by a majority in the 2015 general election. Despite a complex relationship with the party - he resigned over Jeremy Corbyn's leadership in 2016 - he was made the leader of Labour in 2020.

Today, he lives with his wife and two children in Camden.

Military service on Keir Starmer's paternal side

We began our research by building out the branches of the Starmer family tree on Keir's father's side. His father Rodney was born in 1935 to Herbert (‘Bertie’) Starmer (1905-1991) and Doris Edith Parsons (b.1907), Keir’s paternal grandparents. Doris hailed from Caterham, Surrey, while Bertie was born in Everton, Liverpool.

Bertie’s parents (and Keir’s great-grandparents) were Catherine (b.1886) and Gustavus Adolphus Starmer (b.1883). On his son’s baptism record, Gustavus’ occupation is listed as a gamekeeper. The family lived at 19 Woodhouse Street.

This branch of Keir’s family is a sprawling one. Bertie had four siblings, while his father Gustavus was one of six boys. Interestingly, Gustavus Adolphus wasn’t the only one with a unique name for Victorian Lincolnshire. He had brothers named Servan, Ashburn and Lorraine. Although he and his brothers were born in Lincolnshire, they lived in the North Riding of Yorkshire in 1891.

Gustavus in the 1891 Census. View this record.

Gustavus in the 1891 Census. View this record.

Keir’s great-grandfather Gustavus served in the First World War. He enlisted aged 34 on 19 July 1916. At the time, he was living with his wife Catherine and their five children in Oxted, Surrey. He worked as a driver for the Army Service Corps, which was responsible for supplying key provisions including horses to the troops.

Gustavus was discharged on 16 July 1917, with the reason given as the King’s Regulation on Sickness (Para. 392). This means that he was deemed permanently physically unfit, perhaps due to disease or war injury. Although poor health cut Gustavus’ service short, he was awarded a Silver War Badge on 21 July 1917.

If we jump forward over two decades, we find Gustavus and his wife Catherine still living in Surrey in 1939, now aged 57 and 53.

Gustavus and Catherine in the 1939 Register.

Gustavus and Catherine in the 1939 Register. View this record.

Gustavus is again working as a gamekeeper, and his 84-year-old widowed father George (listed as a retired farmer) lives with them. Family was clearly important to Gustavus and Catherine.

The nursing gene on Keir's maternal side

Keir’s mother Josephine Anne Baker was born in 1938 to parents Marjorie Jones (b.1915) and Ronald Frank Baker (b.1911).

We found Marjorie and Ronald in the 1939 Register: they’re living at 35 Sandcross Lane in Reigate, Surrey. Continuing the transportation theme we found on Keir’s paternal side, Ronald is working as a driver for Fitter Road Passenger Transport.

Marjorie and Ronald in 1939

Marjorie and Ronald in 1939. View this record in full.

We delved even further into Ronald’s background using our census records. In 1921, Ronald was aged 9 and living at home in Merstham, Surrey with his parents Frank (b.1887) and Maud Louisa (also born in 1887). He was the eldest of three, with two sisters - Florence and Marjorie - aged 7 and 2.

The Baker family in the 1921 Census.

The Baker family in the 1921 Census. View this record.

Aged 34, Ronald’s father Frank is working as a ‘Mental Nurse’ at the Surrey Asylum, Netherne. The asylum had been founded in 1905 to cater to patients from the nearby overcrowded Brookwood Asylum. The institution was known for pioneering new treatments for the mentally ill and providing a full schedule of activities for patients - including handicrafts, social events and sports matches.

But life at Netherne Asylum in the early 20th century was far from rosy. Frank Baker, Keir Starmer’s great-grandfather, undoubtedly witnessed all manner of heartbreaking scenes during his time working as a mental health nurse. Our newspaper collection revealed one of these instances in searing detail. In October 1917, the Surrey Mirror reported how Frank gave evidence during a trial over the death of asylum patient William Gadd, aged 55.

William was kicked by another patient, Sam Sprague, who was found guilty of manslaughter. Frank’s testimony confirmed that Sam had kicked William, causing him to die after a haemorrhage of his right kidney. It was ruled that these kicks must have been ‘very violent blows’.

Keir's mother Josephine was a nurse - but it seems that she wasn't the first in her family with this calling. Her mental health nurse grandfather may have sparked her desire to work in nursing - or even passed the caring gene down the generations.

Although we didn't find any politicians within Keir's family tree, we did uncover the stories of nurses, gamekeepers and soldiers - lives that were a far cry from standing as a candidate for Prime Minister in the 2024 Election.

Starmer's tree tells the tale of an upwardly mobile, middle-class family pursuing successful careers and good educations, moving from Lincolnshire and Liverpool to London and the neighbouring Surrey in the process.

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Daisy GoddardDaisy Goddard